September 15, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Trips to the US

What is your favorite place on the planet? When approached with this question for a Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival, I couldn’t really imagine how to sift through the heap of awesome places that started flickering through my brain. My favorite place to live? To visit? To eat? So many locations flash into my mind, and surely yours too. Last month it would have been Halong Bay, Vietnam. Last week I would have probably said any Spanish terraza willing to serve me my beloved tinto de verano, a plate of manchego cheese and some gazpacho. And then growing up, my choice would have been Vashon Island, Washington – that weird little island where I built some solid clam digging skills. But of all time? I suppose a couple of places do stand out – two places that tickle all my senses and make me feel like I’m frozen in a dream.

Let me start by taking you on a journey to the first location. It’s a very precise spot in the best city ever (I’m only slightly partial) – San Francisco of course!!! This little spot can be found on the water side of Broderick Street, right before you reach the row of Broadway Street mansions. Sitting there, propped up on the steep incline of the carless block of Broderick, the Marina sits in front of you like a stage. The bustling neighborhood below gives way to the sailboat-speckled waters of the slate-blue Bay. In the distance to your right, Alcatraz pokes gloomily out of the water. Then to your far left, the ebb and flow of marine fog engulfs the Golden Gate Bridge. And just over the hill behind you, whether you can hear it or not, hide the noise and chaos of the big city. Here, in this little piece of heaven on earth, the crisp marine air kisses your skin, and everything around you seems to stand still. I’ve spent countless moments in this very spot reflecting on a stressful day, pondering life-changing decisions (to move to Spain or not to?), or simply reminding myself how grateful I am to have such a special city wrapped around me like a familiar hug.

I have to tell you friends, if I haven’t made it clear already, this is the best place on earth. The rolling hills lined with colorful buildings and filled with equally colorful people, the fusion of international cultures and cuisine, and the weather….no, NO, NOT the weather. This is the one thing I do not miss – except perhaps the mild overcast mornings with the fog horn humming in the distance, carefully soothing me out of my slumber, as opposed to the blinding Madrid sun that does everything short of scream “rise and shine amiga!”

This can’t be my only favorite place, though. There is another, that is perhaps less sentimental and more universally acknowledged as one of the most amazing places in the world – the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. I’ve tried to capture in words before the paradise that is the Alhambra. But honestly, until you are there, and even right now as I write this, it is hard to recall the sensation of walking through the Moorish wonderland. The thought of a palace, for me anyway, typically recalls fancy chandeliers, vast gardens filled with perfectly groomed shrubbery, and ornately tasseled rugs and curtains. While impressive, it certainly seems forced and perhaps a bit excessive, doesn’t it? But this palace, oh this palace, it’s like nothing that you have stored in the corners of your imagination. It’s equal parts elegance and austerity. The Arabic architecture, with its open rooms and intricately carved details, blends naturally with the dribbling fountains. You can’t escape the trickle of water traveling through the palace and gardens, which overflow with everything from roses to fruits and vegetables. When you walk through this palace, everything is in perfect harmony. Nothing is ridiculously lavish, but at the same time, it feels like the richest place on earth – rich with color, smells, sounds and life. It can only best be described as a drug that heightens all your senses – smell, touch, hearing, sight. It is truly euphoric. This would be my kind of palace indeed. Speaking of which, Jacobo, are you taking notes??

Lucky for me, I will be returning to the Alhambra for a third time in just a few short weeks, at which time I will be taking my own notes on what I’d like in my personal (imaginary) Moorish palace (an Andalucian patio and a balcony full of electrically colored petunias are musts!). Meanwhile, if you’re itching to know some other sweet locations around the planet, stop by the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival hosted by Sophie’s World, to find out what other expert travelers are saying about their top spots and favorite places.

May 24, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain

This is the first time that I actually have a moment to recap the last of my recent adventures – this one included my quick trip down to the southern region of Spain, called Andalucia, with Kim. I’ve been there a few times before and it happens to be one of my favorite places in Spain, so when Kim said she was making her second trip out to Madrid to visit me, I knew I had to take her there!

What ended up being quite ironic about her trip is that after she planned it, I had learned that I needed to head to the US for a conference, which ultimately landed me on the same plane as Kim heading back to Madrid. Upon our arrival back to Madrid, we immediately repacked our bags and got ready for the next leg of our journey (squeezing in a little nap too). Then it was off to the train station where we caught a train down to Cordoba to pick up our rental car.

In Cordoba, the road trip began. We made the two hour drive to Granada with surprising alertness. The drive was absolutely gorgeous – between the olive tree covered rolling hills and the abundance of green and colored spring flowers, it was just stunning.

Arriving in Granada, we stopped at the hotel, and then set off to find our restaurant for dinner – the same one that Jacob and I had visited years before. The restaurant has a stunning panoramic view of the Alhambra and is the perfect place to watch the sun go down, and the lights go up on the “red fortress.”

The next day we entered the Alhambra – it was then that I really remembered why Granada is my favorite place in Spain. The Alhambra is literally paradise. It is different than so many other places because it engages more of your senses in such intense ways. The soft sounds of the running water (which is an important and constant theme at the palace), the smell of blossoming flowers and fresh air, and the many colors, whether from the palace, the landscape, or the millions of different plants in bloom. For me, it was like a drug, a type of euphoria that I can’t quite explain. All I can say is that there is just no place on this planet that has ever seemed to come closer to paradise.

After our trip to the Alhambra, we continued the road trip back to Cordoba, where Kim would be staying for the next day. I had to leave that night, but had enough time before catching my train in order to wander the streets of the town for a bit and discover some of the enchanting patios that I loved so much the last time I had visited. Unfortunately, a couple of hours later, it was time for me to head back to Madrid.

On Monday, it was back to work for me, but not before one last excursion with Kim before bidding her farewell. I took her and Heather to see the famous flamenco show that I’ve taken a few of my other guests to. It was totally impressive as usual.

Now it’s a rainy weekend here in Madrid, which is absolutely perfect. We’ve had nothing but sunny and amazing weather, so it’s nice that the gloomy weather is encouraging me to just stay inside and get some rest.

Up next for me will be another trip back to Bucharest, as well as a return to SF for a conference in late June. For now though, I hope to at least remain in Spain for a bit…and I guess I have to – my passport is at the embassy getting new pages :). Forced rest, thank goodness!